- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 12, 2014

Top Hispanic leaders asked President Obama last week to grant some illegal immigrants access to Obamacare, saying the “dreamers” to whom the White House has given tentative work permits are already paying taxes, so they deserve government benefits.

The request is yet another complication stemming from the legal limbo Mr. Obama created for the dreamers, hundreds of thousands of young adults to whom the president gave a tentative legal status in 2012, but who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as minors and thus remain illegal immigrants.

Under government policy, illegal immigrants are barred from buying insurance on Obamacare’s exchanges, and about half the states also prohibit them from getting Medicaid benefits. But the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda said those whom Mr. Obama has freed from the danger of deportation should be considered “lawfully present for all purposes, including eligibility for public benefits and affordable health care.”

“NHLA asks that you apply the fairness and equality that your Administration has shown in various other areas in the health care context and ensure that no one — regardless of their immigration status — lacks access to critical health care services,” Hispanic leaders said in their letter.

Nearly 600,000 illegal immigrants had been approved for tentative legal status under what the administration labeled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Their status means they cannot be deported for two years from the time of their approval, and they can apply to renew that status every two years.

They have also been given work permits. Most states have also decided to allow them driver’s licenses.

SEE ALSO: White House: Obama doesn’t want immigration reform to be ‘casualty’ of election

Immigrant rights activists have asked Mr. Obama to expand his deferred action program to include illegal immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizen children and parents of dreamers. If Mr. Obama were to follow through on that as part of his promised executive action after this year’s elections, it could mean potentially millions more people eligible for Obamacare.

Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager for NumbersUSA, which fights for a crackdown on immigration, said there is a bright dividing line that determines who should be eligible for taxpayer-funded health care benefits.

“As soon as Congress votes to change the law and allow illegal aliens to become legal, then those aliens will have access to U.S. benefits. But it’s very clear taxpayers are not in favor of that, which is why Congress has not passed it,” she said.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released earlier this month shows just how deep that opposition runs.

The poll found 71 percent of voters opposed giving services to the illegal immigrant children who surged across the border this summer, and 63 percent of the voters surveyed said that a generous social welfare system in the U.S. draws illegal immigrants here.

During the 2009 and 2010 debates over Obamacare, immigrant rights advocates fought for access for illegal immigrants but ran into opposition from both the White House and Democrats in Congress, who didn’t want the issue sinking the entire health care law.

Immigrant rights advocates, though, say the legal situation for those illegal immigrants who have been granted forms of tentative legal status is different. Indeed, they said the law actually would allow dreamers to get health care, but the Obama administration changed its own policies to stop it.

Before Mr. Obama’s June 2012 policy for dreamers, others who had been granted deferred action on their deportations had been eligible for publicly funded health care benefits, according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

But in August 2012 the administration issued new guidance saying dreamers wouldn’t be eligible — in essence creating yet another category of tentative legal status that was eligible for just a subset of rights to which other immigrants are entitled.

Mr. Obama had planned to take action extending his nondeportation policies this summer but backed off, fearing a backlash from voters. Now the White House has said he will act after Election Day, when voters can no longer punish him or his party.

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